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Posts Tagged ‘Capitalism’

One In Seven Americans Is Poor: The Frog And The Scorpion

In behavior, business, cities, Crime, History, Money, politics, work on September 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm
American Poverty
Image by Monroe’s Dragonfly via Flickr

Nice statistic that.

The Census Bureau reports that one in seven American is now living in poverty. Millions can’t find work,  are losing their homes, living in their cars, bunking — when they can — with relatives. Millions are reaching for the thin, weak strained social safety net of food stamps and homeless shelters.

The shocking part?

That this should surprise anyone.

Recall the old joke, the friendship between the frog and the scorpion; as the frog swims across a river with the scorpion on its back, stung and dying. betrayed, he asks why. “I’m a scorpion. That’s what I do.”

In a nation where CEOs now crow with glee that they earn 300 times that of their lowest-paid workers, why would anyone find the growing chasm between the happy haves and the terrified have-nots unexpected?

The U.S. is a nation of laissez-faire capitalism. It’s a system as brutal and impersonal as a combustion engine. If you can find a way to accommodate its needs, you’re set. If not, you’re toast.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But no one, anywhere, should gasp in shock at the ruin so many people now face. They played “by the rules”.

There weren’t any.

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The More Successful Friend

In behavior, business on May 22, 2010 at 11:28 pm
Money (reais)

Image via Wikipedia

I had lunch last week with a friend whose income makes mine look like pocket change. She has great jewelry, belongs to a country club, lives in a lovely, large house.

It would be so easy to not be friends. It’s hard when someone is doing so much better. We live in a culture where acquisition and showing off the loot — I’ve blogged here about “haul videos” — remains a national pastime.

But I’m grateful she’s my friend because I have a lot to learn from her. I wish I commanded the higher fees she does for similar work, but she has a few in-demand specialties — while I remain a generalist. (My choice, my fault.) She’s also a super negotiator. She may well work many more hours, or work smarter.

It’s too easy to envy another without admitting what we bring, or don’t, to our own level of achievement.

Most important, she’s still a friend.

I’ve seen a larger income, a proxy for “success” and the putative higher value of the higher-earning half, split the best of buds with ruthless efficiency. I lost a dear friend of a decade after she married a high-earning corporate executive and moved to a lakeside mansion. I’d have been happy to remain friends long after she left her single-gal-in-the-Manhattan-studio days behind, the long, boozy nights when we prowled the bars or danced ’til dawn.

But she had clearly traded up. Her husband was one of those guys who likes to talk about how much money he makes. Not my style.

The nature of “success”, certainly in some cultures, is that it’s too often defined as purely financial, because in a capitalist system — capital = $$$$$ — s/he with the most capital wins.

But many of us bring extraordinary riches to the world, in social capital and intellectual prowess and kindness and generosity, creativity or gentleness with animals or small children or those with severe disabilities, humor and forgiveness, a whole basket of good(ness)s that aren’t quantifiable by economists or measurable in the visible status symbols of Birkin bags or Bentleys.

To me, the measure of one’s real success is the generosity to share it. Not simply, as some do, by writing a check to charity, but taking the time, as I’ve done many times over the years for less-experienced writers as well, to share the skills that help you achieve it.

Do you have a more successful friend who helps you? Or vice versa?

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